SALEM — Faced with high fuel costs and low weekday ridership this time of year, the Salem ferry is cutting back to a three-day schedule for the rest of the season.
The new weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — service will begin next week and run until the end of the season on Oct. 31.
The ferry will operate from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
The announcement yesterday by Boston's Best Cruises means the end of the 7 a.m. commuter service between Salem and Boston. The 149-passenger ferry carries only about 30 to 40 commuters daily paying an average of $5.40 per person, not enough to cover fuel costs, the company said.
"During shoulder season (i.e., the spring and early fall), the ridership is always low during the week," Bill Walker, one of the principals of Boston's Best Cruises, said in a statement.
"In fact, last October, 70 percent of riders used the ferry on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This year, the higher fuel costs for running the ferry seven days per week, without the ridership to support it, has made daily operation not feasible."
Fuel costs are up more than $1 per gallon from last year, Walker said.
Despite the surprise move, an official from Boston's Best Cruises said they expect to return next season.
"This is not an indication we're about to fold up (the Salem ferry)," Missy Walker said. "This is a strategic move for us to be able to continue operation this year without incurring any more loss ...
"We think (the Salem ferry) is a viable service. We just have to find a way to get those ridership numbers up."
Mayor Kim Driscoll emailed city councilors yesterday to inform them of the development.
"We're definitely disappointed," Driscoll said. "It's been a wonderful way to get to and from Boston. Once you have something like that, you hate to lose it, even for this short period of time."